Canberra Centenary Trail

Words & Photos by Ty Domin

5 minutes

Us Canberrans generally take the Centenary Trail for granted, of course we appreciate its existence, I even ride large swathes of it every day no matter which way I commute to work, but apart from the first time I ever rode the northern and southern halves I haven’t followed the little signposts for the full CT experience, ever. If you ask any local out for a ride on a section of the marked trail they will inevitably suggest a better alternate route, taking in more singletrack, more views or a great pub/café. I am more than guilty of this with my ‘version’ being longer than the original as well as a lot dirtier!

The Canberra Centenary Trail, Hidden in Plain Sight

It’s not that we don’t like it. I like to think that it is because the real CT is a showcase of Canberra, demonstrating the ease with which every householder in Canberra can access a huge variety of wilderness by bike path or singletrack, and for us this is no breaking news, so we avoid the clutter and keep to the wilderness alone.

Adding mystery to the Centenary Trail is its lack of overall impression on the internet. Even the official downloadable GPX file is made up of almost a dozen individual files and numerous junctions that are not at all well explained (most of them delineating the different walking-only vs cycling routes – not well explained if you are a first timer). If you were to search for imagery your hits would no doubt return images of the same half a dozen easily accessible Insta hot spots, not a great overall impression.

A Real Showcase of Canberra

It wasn’t until we decided to do the whole official 140km trail in one hit on Saturday that the entire trail came together in my mind. A long panning shot from the top of Canberra to the bottom, and back again. The ultimate expression of Canberra’s design – green space, town centres, community shops and of course wilderness. No road-blocks or road commutes between attractions, just the need for occasional sustenance before continuing on the journey lead by sign post or GPX track. 

The magic of the journey is further amplified by the sense of changing geography as riders gradually travel between the north and south, despite just over 30km of distance between extremes. The geographic changes mean that you can experience multiple varieties of bush settings from the northern border farmland, with sweeping singletrack, through pines, arboretum, lakeside and Eucalyptus Rossii forests to Redbank Gorge with its abrupt and pinchy trails and snow-capped mountains in the distance. All punctuated by quick scoots through semi-high-rise town centres and suburbia.

One minute you could be navigating sandy off camber singletrack beside the Murrumbidgee and literally the next minute waiting for the light to change to cross the road to a café surrounded by hundreds of tidy apartments.

Designed for Three Days, Achievable in One

The official intent is for the Canberra Centenary Trail to take three days by bike, 45km a day for ‘cyclists of moderate ability’. But our data from a not too hurried, very muddy, day on the bike with four eager photogs stopping constantly showed 9 hours of moving time, 12 hrs elapsed.

The clincher for a longer multiday ride is accommodation, with only one campsite on route (at the Northern Border campsite) you will need to get creative and likely go commercial. Perfectly demonstrated on Saturday however, is the ease with which you can jump on or off the route; throughout our day on the bikes 7 people took part in the journey, with only three of us completing it in its entirety; a good security blanket if I have ever seen one.

Tips for Riding the Canberra Centenary Trail

I’m not going to describe the journey, I’ll let the photos do that for me but here’s a few helpful tips:

  • Signage is inconsistent and at times confusing due to the multiple route options in places. Don’t rely on them alone.
  • The official GPX route is confusing for similar reasons but will get you where you need to be. Just be prepared to refer to a separate map of your surroundings occasionally in order to formulate your own plan (never further than a few hundred metres). There is reception the whole way.
  • I wouldn’t leave my bike unlocked in most of the available shopping areas purely due to the amount of foot traffic and opportunity. You are in a city.
  • Of course a gravel bike will get you through (Mattie rode a drop bar adventure style bike on the ride), but even though I own a gravel bike I wouldn’t consider riding it over my MTB for the trail’s duration.

TL;DR should be at the top but if you scooted through the photos and ended up here I will say this: The CT really is a great package showcasing a part of Australia that is often skipped on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne or visited as part of the obligatory tourist destination on school, work or family trips.

The city of Canberra is one of the most misunderstood cities in Australia and this trail goes a long way to clarifying why so many people end up here… and stay. As an entry to longer distance riding or bikepacking I can’t think of anything more suitable, with such variety and so many options for creativity and, if needed, a quick way off the trail to clean sheets or just a bite to eat. Whether just packing some Snickers or the entire sleep system, it is a must do.